Last week, I wrote about a scandal that’s currently engulfing the Royal Society of New Zealand in my Spectator column (and I blogged about it on the Daily Sceptic here). The nub of the story is that the Society is currently investigating one of its members, an eminent biochemist and a professor at the University of Auckland – Dr. Garth Cooper – for writing a letter to a New Zealand magazine challenging a proposal by a government body to teach Mauri “ways of knowing” in schools alongside physics, biology and chemistry, giving each equal weight when it comes to understanding the material world. I asked distinguished scholars in the sciences and humanities to write to the chief executive of the Royal Society of New Zealand to defend Professor Cooper and Dr. Richard Dawkins, Emeritus Professor of the Public Understanding of Science and a Fellow of the British Royal Society, has done exactly that. I am reproducing his letter below.
I have read Jerry Coyne’s long, detailed and fair-minded critique of the ludicrous move to incorporate Maori “ways of knowing” into science curricula in New Zealand, and the frankly appalling failure of the Royal Society of New Zealand to stand up for science – which is, after all, what your Society exists to do.
The world is full of thousands of creation myths and other colourful legends, any of which might be taught alongside Maori myths. Why choose Maori myths? For no better reason than that Maoris arrived in New Zealand a few centuries before Europeans. That would be a good reason to teach Maori mythology in anthropology classes. Arguably there’s even better reason for Australian schools to teach the myths of their indigenous peoples, who arrived tens of thousands of years before Europeans. Or for British schools to teach Celtic myths. Or Anglo-Saxon myths. But no indigenous myths from anywhere in the world, no matter how poetic or hauntingly beautiful, belong in science classes. Science classes are emphatically not the right place to teach scientific falsehoods alongside true science. Creationism is still bollocks even it is indigenous bollocks.
The Royal Society of New Zealand, like the Royal Society of which I have the honour to be a Fellow, is supposed to stand for science. Not “Western” science, not “European” science, not “White” science, not “Colonialist” science. Just science. Science is science is science, and it doesn’t matter who does it, or where, or what “tradition” they may have been brought up in. True science is evidence-based not tradition-based; it incorporates safeguards such as peer review, repeated experimental testing of hypotheses, double-blind trials, instruments to supplement and validate fallible senses, etc. True science works: lands spacecraft on comets, develops vaccines against plagues, predicts eclipses to the nearest second, reconstructs the lives of extinct species such as the tragically destroyed Moas.
If New Zealand’s Royal Society won’t stand up for true science in your country who will? What else is the Society for? What else is the rationale for its existence?
Yours very sincerely,
Richard Dawkins FRS
Stop Press: If any scholars would like to write to the chief executive of the Royal Society of New Zealand about this matter his name is Paul Atkins and his email address is email@example.com.